Happy families

I found Jo Verity's Sweets from Morocco a difficult read. Verity writes really well about ordinary lives made extraordinary. In this case the Swinburne family, husband, wife and 2.4 children living in the 1950s suburbs of a British city (probably I would suspect either Cardiff or Newport - the book was published by Honno, a press set up for women writers writing in Wales, and the setting reminded me a lot of the town I was born in, Newport). On the surface the Swinburnes appear to have a great life, 2 happy older kids, a new baby, and job security for the family. There are small niggles - father has an injured leg that makes him rather acerbic, but otherwise the family seem happy.

Then one day while on an innocent visit to the local newsagents their world is changed forever when baby Gordon is snatched never to be seen again. The mother's world implodes, and the two older siblings, already very close, are thrown together in the confusion, and as a result of the guilt they face over their less than loving feelings towards their vanished baby brother.

The novel follows Tessa and Lewis, the troubled siblings, through the rest of their lives. Tempestuous Tessa, looking for someone else to blame, who whirls through life never letting anything touch her; while Lewis becomes ever more conservative, desperate to maintain stability at whatever the cost to himself.
I think what I found troubling about this novel was that it was almost too true to life. In most novels something happens to sort the situation out, to move the characters to a better, or at least a different place. But Sweets from Morocco was like life, life just happens a lot of the time, and this was just what happened to the characters. It was oddly unsettling, but eminently readable.

Verity writes character really well, and she draws you into thinking more deeply about the emotional situations that her characters are in. She also makes you think about how their situation fits into your own life. So very thought-provoking. Sweets from Morocco would make an excellent book-club read. Not an easy read, not a comfortable one, but well worth spending some time on.


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